FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe’s meet-the-people tours roll into Matabeleland this week, with reports that it has triggered panic in provincial structures, amid fears top officials were in for strong rebuke.
Following her stinging attacks on unnamed party chairmen in Gweru last week, there are fears that chairmen in Matabeleland will be in for an acerbic remark, from the so far unrestrained Grace.
Sources revealed this week that among those in the firing line could be Matabeleland South chairperson, Andrew Langa, who has reportedly had a fallout with the provincial youth wing.
Langa is accused of meddling in youth affairs, an issue Grace and her husband, President Robert Mugabe have been vocal about.
However, Langa rubbished the reports, saying he had a cordial relationship with all the party’s wings in the province.
“I cannot discuss hearsay and rumours; that will not build the party,” he said.
“What I know is that I have a cordial relationship with the all wings of the party and we have not crossed swords.”
There is reportedly bad blood between Langa and the provincial Zanu PF youth chairman and this could be high on Grace’s agenda when she visits Gwanda today.
A source suggested Grace could perform a similar unifying feat to the one she had done in Harare between provincial chairman Amos Midzi and his youth counterpart, Godwin Gomwe.
Zanu PF has traditionally underperformed in elections in Matabeleland, although their showing improved in last year’s elections. The three provinces, Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South are increasingly under the radar and uncertainty has spiked ahead of Grace’s visits.
In a bid to be seemingly politically correct, Bulawayo, a hotbed of Zanu PF factionalism, took out advertisements in the local media announcing the First Lady’s visit, an unprecedented move.
Meanwhile, Gwanda was a hive of activity yesterday ahead of Grace’s rally.
Zanu PF officials went around the town with loud hailers advising people of the rally, although it was not clear why the venue was switched from Filabusi to Gwanda at the 11th hour.
“Preparations are going well and we are hopeful that people will come over from all the districts of the province,” Langa said.
Meanwhile, the source of funding for Grace’s rallies has remained a mystery, amid swirling speculation that the mega rallies, attended by several Cabinet ministers and top civil servants, could be feeding from the ailing national fiscus.
By Saturday, Grace had gone to five provinces, mostly using two military helicopters including the presidential helicopter, with hordes of Cabinet ministers and provincial heads of government departments on tow.
Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo yesterday professed ignorance over the source of funding for the rallies.
“I really don’t know where the funding is coming from, but you can try the national chairman (Simon Khaya Moyo) or the secretary for administration (Didymus Mutasa) to shed light,” he said.
Moyo and Mutasa were not immediately available and had not responded to text messages sent to their mobile phones at the time of going to print.
Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, without revealing the source of funding, denied that the rallies were being funded from State coffers.
“Comrade Gumbo’s ignorance of the funding does not mean that it’s being funded by the State,” he said. “You should get a comment from the women’s league where it got the funding from. Not a single cent has come from Treasury for this.”
“The First Lady is a woman of means and they have sources of income from their different (business) enterprises.”
Charamba further said there was nothing unusual about the First Lady using the presidential helicopter.
“As the First Lady, we look at issues of security, convenience and availability of the plane and these are expenses that ordinarily the First Family would receive,” he explained.
“Wherever she goes private or public she should have security and her staff and I attend in my capacity to protect the image of the president as her life has an impact on the president.”
Charamba said individual ministers who were attending the rallies were finding their way there.